Select Committee to look into complaints on public hearings: Charles Chong

Select Committee to look into complaints on public hearings: Charles Chong

Charles Chong at Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods public hearings
Deputy Speaker Charles Chong, chair of the 10-member Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods at public hearing at Parliament House on Mar 14, 2018.

SINGAPORE: The Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods will look into the allegations it has received on some of its public hearing sessions before issuing a response, its chairman Charles Chong said on Tuesday night (Apr 3).

Human Rights group Maruah issued a press statement on Tuesday stating their "misgivings" about the hearings.

Some witnesses from the committee's public hearings held last week, including freelance journalist Kirsten Han and social worker Jolovan Wham, said the summaries of the evidence they presented, which were released by the committee, misrepresented their views.

In addition, a group of civil society activists released a signed statement on Monday criticising the way the hearings were conducted. 

In response to queries from Channel NewsAsia citing these complaints, Mr Chong said: "We have received the feedback/complaints ... The Select Committee will look into the allegations and review the transcripts before responding to those who have written to us."

A spokesperson from Parliament issued an official response just after midnight saying that the committee is reviewing the requests to amend summaries of evidence.

It added that videos of the committee’s sessions with all 65 representors are available online. 

"As the chairman had made clear to the representors, the full verbatim transcripts will also be sent in due course to them, to check, if there are any errors," the spokesperson said.


In a blog post, Ms Han had reproduced a formal complaint she had sent to Parliament and said her views during the hearing were "drastically misrepresented within the Summary of Evidence".

Meanwhile, Mr Wham, who represents the Community Action Network (CAN), reproduced a complaint he sent to Mr Chong on his Facebook page, pointing out that the summary had "grossly misrepresented" what he said during the hearing. 

Citing an exchange with committee member Edwin Tong during the hearing, he said: "I did not say that there was no evidence of online falsehoods. I said there was no empirical evidence that online falsehoods have a significant impact on Singapore society."

The group of civil society activists which released the signed statement included Ms Han, CAN, civil society group Function 8, historian Thum Ping Tjin and The Online Citizen's chief editor Terry Xu. 

Besides misrepresentation of summaries, the group highlighted that the hearings were "hardly open or consultative" and committee members appeared uninterested in soliciting witnesses' views.

The group's statement also said that "numerous leading questions were asked" and that members of the Select Committee "repeatedly insisted on yes or no answers to their questions despite repeatedly being told of the importance of context and nuance". 

Human rights group Maruah voiced similar concerns on Tuesday. It said that the proceedings were at times "overly focused" on showing that the witnesses were propagators of falsehoods through "a process of intense interrogation". 

It also called the committee's approach to some witnesses "disrespectful", and said it functioned "at times, patronisingly and discriminatingly".

"We express our dissatisfaction at the modus operandi and the approach that the committee took on when it came to the hearings from some civil society actors, online media practitioners, technology providers, academics," the statement said. "There were instances of aggression and a confrontational stance that underpinned the approach taken for these witnesses."

Source: CNA/am(hm)